NB: Please use discretion and to ensure that families stay within the law when considering some of these activities.
As much as the extended lockdown has brought a break to the stress of rushed mornings and school lunches, it’s also a time when most parents find themselves in two minds.
On the one hand, they are glad of the opportunity to spend more quality time with their little ones while on the other, feeling a little stressed at the task of having enough planned to keep them engaged and entertained while they too get their work done.
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How to keep the kids entertained and allow parents time to also get some work done.
Plan, plan, and plan again. The trick is to put in a little bit of planning so that you are prepared with heaps of things to do to get you through the day while keeping your little ones out of mischief. Get the kids involved in the planning too, it will give them things to look forward to and they will be pleased to be included in the decision-making.
Put together a daily activity calendar. Paint it, draw it, koki pen it, sticker it and just have fun with it. And when you’re finished stick it up somewhere where you can all see it every day. This is what my schedule will look like more or less.
- The idea of the day
- Free play – any toy, any play, sometimes art can make your day
- Naptime / Quiet time (This usually involves drawing or reading for my oldest!)
- Clean up
- Outdoor play
- Screen time (iPad, TV or gaming)? Physical play - in our case play fight time or physio exercises!
- Dinner, bath time, bed time
Now for some entertainment ideas to select from for all ages that will provide great opportunities for stimulation, fun and bonding while still allowing you some well-earned time to get your own things done!
Ideas for the 'idea of the day'!
Make an obstacle course
Obstacle courses are fun for all kids and can provide hours of entertainment. They encourage your little one to clamber on, under and over your household furniture. This not only strengthens their muscles but also challenges their little minds as they try to figure out how to negotiate the obstacles! With a little thought, you can use an obstacle course in a variety of different ways to challenge your child’s gross motor development.
For the little ones - like toddlers and preschoolers
Make an exciting obstacle course for your little one to move through. Use your cushions, pillows, soft blankets and mats for him to walk or crawl “over”.
Find obstacles to crawl or duck “under” such as chairs or tables.
They will love going “through” boxes (open at each end), tunnels, duvet covers (that have openings on either side) and even your legs.
Take your little one’s hand (if walking) or encourage him to crawl after you and show him how to weave his way between the objects.
Now encourage him to try it on his own. He may need prompting to avoid touching the objects and you may need to do it several times with him first. A big "Hooray!" at the end, should encourage him to try it again and again.
For older children: Take the obstacle course outside and use old pieces of wood, boxes, buckets and garden chairs — anything that can be jumped over, under or around.
Tell the children to time each other around the course.Here are a few extra entertainment ideas to boost gross motor development.
Get cooking and baking
Many fine motor skills are strengthened and refined while baking and cooking or preparing food. Babies and toddlers will also be more likely to try some new foods if they have helped to prepare them with you so this is a great activity for fussy eaters (many toddlers eat while preparing the meal).
Get your baby or toddler to help you in the kitchen. From helping to mix his cereal (you can even use your hands over his hands to guide the action) to baking some cookies, he will love to pour, mix, roll, collect, pick up small pieces and of course lick the spoon!
Older kids can use small scissors to cut up items (e.g. lettuce or cucumber for a salad) and even small babies can help pick up and pack raisins, cheese cubes, popcorn and so on into a small container when packing a snack, strengthening the pincer grasp (using the thumb and index finger to pick up a small item).
Try these yummy Cookie and Nutella Smores or my personal favourite this Strawberry and Salted Caramel French Toast.
Make up a song together
Music offers a special way to interact with your baby and toddler, as children often communicate and connect during music long before they can actually say any words. A great way to enjoy music with your little ones, even from the youngest age is to make up a song together. Here are some hints on how to create a family hit:
- Choose a simple, familiar tune to start.
- Make up a song about things that are familiar. Using your child’s name in the song and names of other important people.
- Choose meaningful, useful words. Some traditional children’s songs have a complicated vocabulary, such as “Mulberry bush”, “water spout”, or “London Bridge”, which are hard for little ones to understand.
- Put important words at the end of the lines in the song – this will make these words stand out.
- Keep it simple! Children love repetition and learn from it. So repeat key lyrics and keep the number of words to a minimum.
- Add simple actions or movements to the song.
- Add sound effects or “fun words” to the song, if appropriate. Examples include: animal sounds such as “quack quack” or “moo”, vehicle sounds such as “vrooooomm” or “beep beep”, other sounds and fun words such as “achoooo!”, “wheee!”, “boo!”
Put on a show
Through music, children learn essential skills for language development and early social, cognitive, and communication learning. We are not encouraged at the moment to have friends over, but maybe when dad or gran comes to visit, encourage the kids to put on a show for you. The planning and practising will keep them busy for some time while giving you a chance to have an uninterrupted conversation.
Pull out any musical instruments so that they can include singing and dancing in the act and find dress-up costumes to add to the entertainment.
Encourage the older kids to help the little ones get involved in this great, creative fun and don’t forget to make a huge fuss of your budding stars when the show is over.
Make your own toys
Having fun doesn’t always involve getting new toys. Making your own toys and games are great opportunities to practice fine motor skills (cutting, pasting, drawing) while keeping the children occupied for some time. Everyday items that can be found at home are all you need.
For the little ones: Make a posting box from an empty formula tin with a plastic lid. Cut holes in the lid so that your baby can post ping-pong balls or plastic milk bottle tops into the box. Empty the post box and play again while alternating hands.
Make your own musical instruments using toilet rolls. Staple one end of a toilet roll closed and fill it 3/4 full with rice, beans or lentils (each filling will make a different sound). Now staple the other end and hurray, you have your first musical shaker for great sensory stimulation.
For the older kids: Get a supply of coloured paper, crayons, children’s scissors and glue to make some fun games. Pin the Tail on the Donkey or Snakes and Ladders can all be easily made at home and will provide hours of entertainment.
Try these easy and affordable craft ideas with toilet rolls!
Age-appropriate chores - Family chore time
Since it’s a critical no contact time, you may not have a trusted helper as they too have to be home with their little ones. But the chores still need to get done. Household chores are a great way to get your little ones to help out while stimulating Gross Motor Development and providing Sensory Stimulation. "Pushing" and "pulling" chores such as vacuuming, sweeping mopping, wiping down table tops, packing and unpacking the washing machine are good examples.
The key is to make it fun so hold competitions and allow the winner of the day to choose a special treat. Remember everything we do at this time will most likely be without a helper so we can make clean up time a family fun affair. We use the cleanup song ”Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share!”
Fostering independent play takes time and patience. But once it’s mastered this allows for so much extra time for moms and dads to get some free time in or to work. In our house I find LEGO is great for independent play and I taught my son (5yo) how to play solitaire too. I find PlayStation uses fine motor skills and problem solving and ensuring the game is age appropriate can give hours of problem solving fun.
Other simple, fun things to do with your kids:
Go on a picnic
You don’t have to go far to have a picnic and being told to try to stay home — the garden is a great option. Let your kids help you pack the picnic basket from whatever you have in the fridge. It’s amazing how much more fun it is to snack in a fun location. Perhaps you have a lake or a pond close by, go for a walk and feed the ducks.
Build a tent indoors or outdoors with blankets and sheets. Once the tent is up, make a password so only you and them can enter. You can even choose to sleep in the tent that night making it even more fun.
Do a treasure hunt
Make a treasure map out of brown paper with clues to find some treasure you have hidden somewhere in the house or garden. Even the smallest treasure, when found, will be greeted with much excitement.
Make a robot
Don’t throw away present boxes from the deliveries you are going to get or from the empty cereal boxes. Fantastic robots can be created with some glue, finger paint and a just a little imagination.
Do a puppet show
Make sock puppets by gluing wool on the top of an old sock and using a permanent marker to draw eyes, nose and a mouth.
Go on a colour hunt in the house
Collect objects of a certain colour. The winner has collected the most objects in the set time.
Make an imaginary world
In a large rectangle bucket or tray create your own play scene. Place rocks, small twigs, bark or sticks from trees for an outdoor scene or use little toys to create your imaginary world. Now invite mom, dad and siblings to play in your world.
Take nature walks
Go on nature walks to collect special items. On the beach, collect shells and stones to later make a shell castle or shell and stone sculptures. In the forest, collect bugs, plants or trees. At night, go for a walk with a torch and then switch off and star gaze.
Build a garden patch
Dedicate a small patch in the garden to the kids and create an outdoor play garden. Fill with pots, a small rake, bucket, spoons, utensils and solid plastic toys like animal figurines. Plant flowers, herbs, lettuce — anything that grows quickly and gives them the satisfaction of having produced something. If your kids are small, just give them a spade, put on their old clothes, and let them loose.
Go for a bike ride
Whether it is around the house, through the garden, in quiet streets or perhaps even in a deserted parking lot. Go and burn off some energy that they will undoubtedly have from being home for so long. You could even have a jog next to them and get in a little stress relieving too!
Sometimes it’s not about the story or the pictures. Sometimes it is about switching off all the lights and mom can put on a story book show with different voices for different characters. A favourite for us is The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson.
Boardgames and puzzles
Monopoly Junior, Giant snakes and Ladders, Memory, big puzzles and small puzzles. All of these are interactive and educational. Even if the game seems a little long make it fun by making your own rules sometimes. I must say the more we play the better the really do get and you end up really fighting to win!
Other simple, educational things to do:
Go beyond the classroom and learn about nocturnal insects and how to make your own bug catcher.
You can also learn some weird and wonderful facts about Elephants and also do a word search with older kids!
Balancing Robots is particularly appealing to younger kids utilizing their fine motor skills by requiring them to colour in and decorate their robots.
We all seem to have disposable gloves lying around now with Covid-19. Why not make it into something fun and make these sensory gloves using them!
Remember, while this is scary for you, kids pick up on all sorts of anxiety.
Parents, family members, and other trusted adults can play an important role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear.
Remain calm and reassuring
- Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others. Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
- Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions. Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
- Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have Covid-19. Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online.
- Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on Covid-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety. Provide information that is honest and accurate.
- Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child.
- Talk to children about how some stories on Covid-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumours and inaccurate information. Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.
- Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.
- Remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.? Discuss any new actions like school closing to help protect children and school staff.(e.g., increased handwashing, cancellation of events or activities)
- Get children into a handwashing habit.
We will come together as a nation and reduce the spread of this virus and as a family we will look back on it as one of the best of times.
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